Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
Winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award
Finalist for the National Book Awards


From the age of four, award-winning writer Edwidge Danticat came to think of her uncle Joseph as her “second father,” when she was placed in his care after her parents left Haiti for America. And so she was both elated and saddened when, at twelve, she joined her parents and youngest brothers in New York City. As Edwidge made a life in a new country, adjusting to being far away from so many who she loved, she and her family continued to fear for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorated.

In 2004, they entered into a terrifying tale of good people caught up in events beyond their control. Brother, I'm Dying is an astonishing true-life epic, told on an intimate scale by one of our finest writers.

“Remarkable. . . . A fierce, haunting book about exile and loss and family love.” —The New York Times

"With a storyteller's magnetic force . . . [Danticat] gives voice to an attachment too deep for words.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“Powerful. . . . Danticat employs the charms of a storyteller and the authority of a witness to evoke the political forces and personal sacrifices behind her parents' journey to this country and her uncle’ s decision to stay behind.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Heartwrenching, intimate. . . . Through the seemingly effortless grace of Danticat’s words, a family's tragedy is transformed into a promise of collective hope.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Her power of language is so great, and at the same time, so subtle, that even those that cannot see her or understand her stories will be transformed by her impact on their world.” —Walter Mosley

“A classic that will be taught and looked at forever. A phenomenal book.” —Ann Patchett

“Extraordinary . . . Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying records the toll Haiti’s civil war took on the author’s family, both in their native land and in their country of refuge, America.” —Diane Cole, U.S. News & World Report (December 31, 2007/January 7, 2008)

“Danticat’s father left poverty and turmoil in his native Haiti and came to New York, where he drove a taxi for 20 years. His beloved brother, Joseph, stayed behind. The haunting, simply written story of the effect of exile on their families is also a memoir of the power of love against the sorrow of loss.” —Anne Stephenson, The Arizona Republic (December 28, 2007)

“Told in the spare, lyrical prose that marks Danticat’s fiction, [Brother, I’m Dying] moves quickly and directly through its complex stories, falling towards conclusions so stark and true and sad that I was startled to find myself crying. . . . As Danticat ages in the pages . . . the author’s spare style becomes ever more incisive, describing only what is necessary: her imagined version of her uncle’s experience on the rioting streets of Haiti in 2004, her own painful conversations with her mother about her father’s illness, the harrowing journey to the United States that results in her uncle’s death. . . . The last third of the book catapults the memoir, thus far a personal story on which politics touched into a searing story of the personal destruction wrought by immoral political policy. The transition is so smooth and so startling as to make you realize that even among the privileged, politics infect our lives with similar insidiousness. By the end of the book, Danticat has drawn us into her family’s world, and through it, into the realities of the world we live in.” —Gemma Cooper-Novack, Feminist Review (December 11, 2007)

“Through the seemingly effortless grace of Danticat’s words, a family’s tragedy is transformed into a promise of collective hope.” —Bloomsbury Review (December 1, 2007)

“A memoir of the highest order: substantive, unsentimental, lucid and beautiful . . . affecting.” —Holly Silva, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (December 9, 2007)

“Edwidge Danticat’s memoir Brother, I’m Dying is a breathtaking account of love, loss, and Haiti. . . . that captures her admiration for the two men who raised her and [is] a heartbreaking portrait of the hardscrabble life of Haitians, both in the United States and back home.” —Frank Houston, Broward Palm Beach News (November 1, 2007)
 
“More than just another family immigration; Danticat draws up a balance sheet of what is gained and lost from what seems like such a small decision as where to live and work.  Her skills as a storyteller lend themselves well to this story, her own ‘origin myth.’” —Kel Munger, Sacramento News & Review (October 18, 2007)

“How does a novelist, who trades in events filtered through imagination and memory, recreate an event so recent, so intimate and so outrageous, an attack on her own loyalties and sense of deepest belonging?  Joseph Dantica was a remarkable man: a Baptist minister, a survivor of cancer, a loyal husband and family man who raised his niece Edwidge Danticat to the age of 12, when she joined her parents in Brooklyn.  When [he] fled Haiti in 2004 after a battle between U.N. peacekeepers and gang members destroyed his church and put his life in jeopardy, he was 81. He intended to return and rebuild his church as soon as the fighting stopped. But to the Department of Homeland Security officers who examined him, his plea for asylum meant he was simply another unlucky Haitian determined to slip through their fingers. [Their] refusal of treatment cost him his life: he died in a Florida hospital, probably in shackles, the following day. The story of Joseph Dantica could be, perhaps will be, told in many forms: as a popular ballad; as Greek tragedy; as agitprop theater; as a bureaucratic nightmare worthy of Kafka. But Edwidge Danticat, true to her calling, has resisted any of these responses.  In telling her family’s story she giv[es] us a memoir whose cleareyed prose and unflinching adherence to the facts conceal an astringent undercurrent of melancholy, a mixture of homesickness and homelessness. Haunting the book throughout is a fear of missed chances, long-overdue payoffs and family secrets withering on the vine: a familiar anxiety when one generation passes to another too quickly.” —Jess Row, The New York Times Book Review (cover) (September 9, 2007)

“There is no guarantee that a distinguished fiction writer will produce a successful memoir.  Yet Edwidge Danticat—the author of three elegant and complex novels—brings lucid storytelling to Brother, I’m Dying.  . . . An intricate account that expands outward to include the history of U.S. involvement in Haiti since 1915; violence and fear during the Duvalier reign and beyond; and post-Sept. 11 immigration policy. Emotional clarity is abundant.” —Donna Rifkind, Los Angeles Times Book Review (September 9, 2007)

“A model of grace and restraint.” —Anna Mundow, The Boston Globe (September 9, 2007)

“Poignant . . . . Eminently readable and emotionally nuanced.  The two men it features–Edwidge’s father, Miracin, and his older brother, Joseph–become our own father and uncle.  Brother, I’m Dying offers a glimpse into the sources of Danticat’s vivid imagery and characters. We see dresses sewn big to grow into. We find a righteous pastor who confronts the Tonton Macoutes, the terror of voicelessness, aged matriarchs with tales to tell, and the casual abuse of absolute power. The ancient Greeks believed that in death, gods and heroes were raised to the sky as constellations. In contrast, the children of slaves from Brazil to Haiti were taught that every time a brave soul died, a star fell. Toward the end of her memoir, Danticat reminds us of this, one of the great motifs in the folklore of the African Diaspora. When the next meteor shower rains down, only the heartless would begrudge Joseph and Miracin two of those brilliant flashes.” —Richard Thompson, Minneapolis Star-Tribune (September 7, 2007)

“At a time when most American memoirs practically groan under the weight of self-importance and bad-memory baggage, Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying provides a formidable example of an author who knows how to write about her family without hogging the stage. . . . Brother conjures up vibrant episodes in the Danticat family history in a tone that’s both clear-eyed and mythical. . . . Interspersed with these stories of near wonder are scenes of political turmoil in Haiti, which push the book toward its haunting moral core.  In October 2004, after gangs threaten to kill Joseph, the preacher flees to Miami, where he’s detained by immigration officials.  After a series of seizurelike attacks that go untreated, he dies. . . . Danticat re-creates her uncle’s final hours in masterful detail . . . By the end, it’s impossible not to feel outrage at the bureaucracies that denied Joseph his humanity and his life.” —Michael Miller, Time Out New York (September 6-12, 2007)

“Deeply affecting . . . Danticat brings the lyric language and emotional clarity of her remarkable novel The Dew Breaker to bear on the story of her own family, a story which, like so much of her fiction, embodies the painful legacy of Haiti’ s violent history, demonstrating the myriad ways in which the public and the private, the political and the personal, intersect in the lives of that country’s citizens and exiles. Ms. Danticat not only creates an indelible portrait of her two fathers, her dad and her uncle, but in telling their stories, she gives the reader an intimate sense of the personal consequences of the Haitian diaspora: its impact on parents and children, brothers and sisters, those who stay and those who leave to begin a new life abroad. She has written a fierce, haunting book about exile and loss and family love, and how that love can survive distance and separation, loss and abandonment and somehow endure, undented and robust. . . . Moving.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times (September 4, 2007)

“Edwidge Danticat wastes no time.  She learned she was pregnant the same day she was told her father was dying, as she writes in the first line of her eloquent, intense memoir.  Her life, her father’s and that of the uncle who raised her until she was 12 are intertwined.  Past and present, personal and political entangle with a vengeance in the lives of ordinary people who become immigrants . . . The tone, as always with Danticat’s fiction and nonfiction, is unsentimental.  And the book is tightly structured, the narrative taut.” —Betsy Willeford, The Miami Herald (September 2, 2007)

Family can be inscrutable, a mystery sometimes better solved by describing events than by analyzing motives. Edwidge Danticat describes her family history in Brother, I’m Dying with a dispassion that only adds to the drama of childhood memories and snippets of family lore learned ‘out of sequence and in fragments.’ . . . The brutalities of war and immigration—and the grace of strong family ties—are scorched into Danticat’s intimate and aching story.” —Deanna Larson, Bookpage (September 2007)

“Haitian-born American writer Danticat is at her best—fearless, persuasive, captivating—in recounting her family history. . . . In a world where the concept of distinct nationalities is fast giving way to the preeminence of diasporas, this is a tale for all, both uplifting and tragic.  Most readers will likely recognize a kindred spirit or something familiar in this family account, brought so vividly to life and captured for all ages by a fine writer. Recommended.” —Edward K. Owusu-Ansah, Library Journal (Editor’s Pick, starred review) (August 2007)

“This past June a tally from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency showed that 62 immigrants have died in its custody since 2004. . . . One was Joseph, the frail, 81-year-old uncle of the brilliant novelist Edwidge Danticat, who tells Joseph’ s story, and her own, in this unforgettable memoir. . . . Brother, I’m Dying is the story of a family torn between two countries and of a daughter’s love split between two men: one a worked-to-the-bone taxi driver in Brooklyn, the other a pastor coping with revolution. Danticat brings the risk and daring of contemporary immigrant experience vividly alive.” —Kate Manning, More (September 2007)

“In a single day in 2004, Danticat learns that she’s pregnant and that her father, André, is dying—a stirring constellation of events that frames this Haitian immigrant family’s story, rife with premature departures and painful silences.  When Danticat was two, André left Haiti for the U.S., and her mother followed when Danticat was four.  The author and her brother could not join their parents for eight years, during which André’s brother Joseph raised them.  . . . In the end, as Danticat prepares to lose her ailing father and give birth to her daughter, Joseph is threatened by a volatile sociopolitical clash and forced to leave Haiti.  He’s then detained by U.S. Customs and neglected for days.  He unexpectedly dies a prisoner while loved ones await news of his release.  Poignant and never sentimental, this elegant memoir recalls how a family adapted and reorganized itself over and over, enduring and succeeding to remain kindred in spite of living apart.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) (July 16, 2007)

“An unforgettable work by a truly great artist at the height of her powers, rich with the history of Haiti then and now, and constantly informed by a folk wisdom as old as humankind. Never has Edwidge Danticat’s simple lucidity and extraordinary equilibrium served her better than here. In a work full of anger, but next to no bitterness, she traces a singular Haitian tragedy. The superhuman control of her writing compresses all the fury of this narrative to the hardened brilliance of a diamond.” —Madison Smartt Bell

“Exceptionally gripping . . . [A] deeply felt memoir rife with historical drama . . . [Brother, I’m Dying] tells the dramatically twinned stories of Danticat’ s father’s and uncle’s hardworking, tragedy-haunted lives. [The book] starts off momentously in 2004, when the author discovers she’s pregnant on the same day she learns that her father has end-stage pulmonary fibrosis. From there, Danticat angles backward in time, sketching a family history marked by long absence and a backdrop of political unrest. While her parents tried to make a better life in Brooklyn, the author was raised in Haiti by her uncle Joseph; she didn’t join her mother and father until she was 12. . . . Danticat alternates between her uncle’s and her father’s stories, using her childhood experiences as a means to vividly portray two honorable, duty-bound men who wanted nothing more than to lead respectable lives in a peaceful and prosperous Haiti. The country’s troubled history is always smoldering in the background, and there’s an explosion of tears waiting behind almost every sentence. But Danticat avoids sentimentality in smoothly honed prose that is nonetheless redolent with emotion.” —Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2007)

“Memoir is a witness which swears to tell the truth. Memoir is the magic of love and remembrance. Magic is Edwidge Danticat who taps on her keyboard to the rhythm of angels.” —Nikki Giovanni

“Wonderful. Danticat’s moving tale of two remarkable brothers—her own father and her beloved Uncle Joseph, separated for thirty years–is as compelling and richly told as her fiction. Politically charged and sadly unforgettable, their stories will lodge themselves in your heart.” —Cristina García

Brother, I’m Dying will break your heart but put it back together through the healing magic of Edwidge Danticat’s clear, compassionate, beautiful writing. She draws us into her family, to share its joys and also its journey to the heart of darkness. But she also shows us the way back: we become brothers and sisters in an even larger family, the human family, bonded together by the power of her storytelling.  This is what the best writing can do.  And why we need storytellers like her more than ever.” —Julia Alvarez
© Lynn Savarese

EDWIDGE DANTICAT is the author of numerous books, including The Art of Death, a National Book Critics Circle finalist; Claire of the Sea Light, a New York TimesNotable Book; Brother, I'm Dying, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner and National Book Award finalist; The Dew Breaker, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist and winner of the inaugural Story Prize; The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner; Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah's Book Club selection; and Krik? Krak!, also a National Book Award finalist. A 2018 Neustadt International Prize for Literature winner and the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" grant, she has been published in The New YorkerThe New York Times, Harper's Magazine, and elsewhere.

EDWIDGE DANTICAT is available for select readings and lectures. To inquire about a possible appearance, please contact Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau at speakers@penguinrandomhouse.com or visit prhspeakers.com.

View titles by Edwidge Danticat
Beating the DarknessOn Sunday, October 24, 2004, nearly two months after he left New York, Uncle Joseph woke up to the clatter of gunfire. There were blasts from pistols, handguns, automatic weapons, whose thundering rounds sounded like rockets. It was the third of such military operations in Bel Air in as many weeks, but never had the firing sounded so close or so loud. Looking over at the windup alarm clock on his bedside table, he was startled by the time, for it seemed somewhat lighter outside than it should have been at four thirty on a Sunday morning.During the odd minutes it took to reposition and reload weapons, you could hear rocks and bottles crashing on nearby roofs. Taking advantage of the brief reprieve, he slipped out of bed and tiptoed over to a peephole under the staircase outside his bedroom. Parked in front of the church gates was an armored personnel carrier, a tank with mounted submachine guns on top. The tank had the familiar circular blue and white insignia of the United Nations peacekeepers and the letters UN painted on its side. Looking over the trashstrewn alleys that framed the building, he thought for the first time since he’d lost Tante Denise that he was glad she was dead. She would have never survived the gun blasts that had rattled him out of his sleep. Like Marie Micheline, she too might have been frightened to death.He heard some muffled voices coming from the living room below, so he grabbed his voice box and tiptoed down the stairs. In the living room, he found Josiane and his grandchildren: Maxime, Nozial, Denise, Gabrielle and the youngest, who was also named Joseph, after him. Léone, who was visiting from Léogâne, was also there, along with her brothers, Bosi and George.“Ki jan nou ye?” my uncle asked. How’s everyone?“MINUSTAH plis ampil police,” a trembling Léone tried to explain.Like my uncle, Léone had spent her entire life watching the strong arm of authority in action, be it the American marines who’d been occupying the country when she was born or the brutal local army they’d trained and left behind to prop up, then topple, the puppet governments of their choice. And when the governments fell, United Nations soldiers, so-called peacekeepers, would ultimately have to step in, and even at the cost of innocent lives attempt to restore order.Acting on the orders of the provisional government that had replaced Aristide, about three hundred United Nations soldiers and Haitian riot police had come together in a joint operation to root out the most violent gangs in Bel Air that Sunday morning. Arriving at three thirty a.m., the UN soldiers had stormed the neighborhood, flattening makeshift barricades with bulldozers. They’d knocked down walls on corner buildings that could be used to shield snipers, clearedaway piles of torched cars that had been blocking traffic for weeks and picked up some neighborhood men.“It is a physical sweep of the streets,” Daniel Moskaluk, the spokesman for the UN trainers of the Haitian police, would later tell the Associated Press, “so that we can return to normal traffic in this area, or as normal as it can be for these people.”Before my uncle could grasp the full scope of the situation, the shooting began again, with even more force than before. He gathered everyone in the corner of the living room that was farthest from Rue Tirremasse, where most of the heavy fire originated. Crouched next to his grandchildren, he wondered what he would do if they were hit by a stray. How would he get them to a hospital?An hour passed while they cowered behind the living room couch. There was another lull in the shooting, but the bottle and rock throwing continued. He heard something he hadn’t heard in some time: people were pounding on pots and pans and making clanking noises that rang throughout the entire neighborhood. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard it, of course. This kind of purposeful rattle was called bat tenèb, or beating the darkness. His neighbors, most of them now dead, had tried to beat the darkness when Fignolé had been toppled so many decades ago. A new generation had tried it again when Aristide had been removed both times. My uncle tried to imagine in each clang an act of protest, a cry for peace, to the Haitian riot police, to the United Nations soldiers, all of whom were supposed to be protecting them. But more often it seemed as if they were attacking them while going after the chimères, or ghosts, as the gang members were commonly called.The din of clanking metal rose above the racket of roofdenting rocks. Or maybe he only thought so because he was so heartened by the bat tenèb. Maybe he wouldn’t die today after all. Maybe none of them would die, because their neighbors were making their presence known, demanding peace from the gangs as well as from the authorities, from all sides.He got up and cautiously peeked out of one of the living room windows. There were now two UN tanks parked in front of the church. Thinking they’d all be safer in his room, he asked everyone to go with him upstairs.Maxo had been running around the church compound looking for him. They now found each other in my uncle’s room. The lull was long enough to make them both think the gunfight might be over for good. Relieved, my uncle showered and dressed, putting on a suit and tie, just as he had every other Sunday morning for church.Maxo ventured outside to have a look. A strange calm greeted him at the front gate. The tanks had moved a few feet, each now blocking one of the alleys joining Rue Tirremasse and the parallel street, Rue Saint Martin. Maxo had thought he might sweep up the rocks and bottle shards and bullet shells that had landed in front of the church, but in the end he decided against it.Another hour went by with no shooting. A few church members arrived for the regular Sunday-morning service.“I think we should cancel today,” Maxo told his father when they met again at the front gate.“And what of the people who are here?” asked my uncle. “How can we turn them away? If we don’t open, we’re showing our lack of faith. We’re showing that we don’t trust enough in God to protect us.”At nine a.m., they opened the church gates to a dozen or so parishioners. They decided, however, not to use the mikes and loudspeakers that usually projected the service into the street.A half hour into the service, another series of shots rang out. My uncle stepped off the altar and crouched, along with Maxo and the others, under a row of pews. This time, the shooting lasted about twenty minutes. When he looked up again at the clock, it was ten a.m. Only the sound of sporadic gunfire could be heard at the moment that a dozen or so Haitian riot police officers, the SWAT-like CIMO (Corps d’Intervention et de Maintien de l’Ordre, or Unit for Interventionand Maintaining Order), stormed the church. They were all wearing black, including their helmets and bulletproof vests, and carried automatic assault rifles as well as sidearms, which many of them aimed at the congregation. Their faces were covered with dark knit masks, through which you could see only their eyes, noses and mouths.The parishioners quivered in the pews; some sobbed in fear as the CIMO officers surrounded them. The head CIMO lowered his weapon and tried to calm them.“Why are you all afraid?” he shouted, his mouth looking like it was floating in the middle of his dark face. When he paused for a moment, it maintained a nervous grin.“If you truly believe in God,” he continued, “you shouldn’t be afraid.”My uncle couldn’t tell whether he was taunting them or comforting them, telling them they were fine or prepping them for execution.“We’re here to help you,” the lead officer said, “to protect you against the chimères.”No one moved or spoke.“Who’s in charge here?” asked the officer.Someone pointed at my uncle.“Are there chimères here?” the policeman shouted in my uncle’s direction.Gang members inside his church? My uncle didn’t want to think there were. But then he looked over at all the unfamiliar faces in the pews, the many men and women who’d run in to seek shelter from the bullets. They might have been chimères, gangsters, bandits, killers, but most likely they were ordinary people trying to stay alive.“Are you going to answer me?” the lead officer sternly asked my uncle.“He’s a bèbè,” shouted one of the women from the church. She was trying to help my uncle. She didn’t want them to hurt him. “He can’t speak.”Frustrated, the officer signaled for his men to split the congregation into smaller groups.“Who’s this?” they randomly asked, using their machine guns as pointers. “Who’s that?”When no one would answer, the lead officer signaled for his men to move out. As they backed away, my uncle could see another group of officers climbing the outside staircase toward the building’s top floors. The next thing he heard was another barrage of automatic fire. This time it was coming from above him, from the roof of the building.The shooting lasted another half hour. Then an eerie silence followed, the silence of bodies muted by fear, uncoiling themselves from protective poses, gently dusting off their shoulders and backsides, afraid to breathe too loud. Then working together, the riot police and the UN soldiers, who often collaborated on such raids, jogged down the stairs in an organized stampede and disappeared down the street. After a while my uncle walked to the church’s front gate and peered outside. The tanks were moving away. Trailing the sounds of sporadic gunfire, they turned the corner toward Rue Saint Martin, then came back in the other direction. One tank circled Rue Tirremasse until late afternoon. As dusk neared, it too vanished along with the officers at the makeshift command center at Our Lady of Perpetual Help farther down the street.As soon as the forces left, the screaming began in earnest. People whose bodies had been pierced and torn by bullets were yelling loudly, calling out for help. Others were wailing about their loved ones. Amwe, they shot my son. Help, they hurt my daughter. My father’s dying. My baby’s dead. My uncle jotted down a few of the words he was hearing in one of the small notepads in his shirt pocket. Again, recording things had become an obsession. One day, I knew, he hoped to gather all his notes together, sit down and write a book. There were so many screams my uncle didn’t know where to turn. Whom should he try to see first? He watched people stumble out of their houses, dusty, bloody people.“Here’s the traitor,” one man said while pointing at him. “The bastard who let them up on his roof to kill us.”“You’re not going to live here among us anymore,” another man said. “You’ve taken money for our blood.”All week there had been public service announcements on several radio stations asking the people of Bel Air and other volatile areas to call the police if they saw any gangs gathering in their neighborhoods.It was rumored that a reward of a hundred thousand Haitian dollars—the equivalent of about fifteen thousand Americandollars—had been offered for the capture of the neighborhood gang leaders. My uncle’s neighbors now incorrectly believed he’d volunteered his roof in order to collect some of that money.Two sweaty, angry-looking young men were each dragging a blood-soaked cadaver by the arms. They were heading for my uncle.My uncle stepped back, moving to the safer shadows of the church courtyard. Anne, once a student of his school, followed him in.“Pastor,” she whispered, “my aunt sent me to tell you something.”Anne’s aunt Ferna, now thirty-seven years old, the same age Marie Micheline had been when she died, he recalled, had been born in the neighborhood. My uncle had known both Ferna and Anne their entire lives.“What is it?” asked my uncle.“Don’t talk,” said Anne. “People can hear your machine.”My uncle removed his voice box from his neck and motioned for her to continue.“Pastor,” said Anne, “my aunt told me to tell you she heard that fifteen people were killed when they were shooting from your roof and the neighbors are saying that they’re going to bring the corpses to you so you can pay for their funerals. If you don’t pay, and if you don’t pay for the people who are hurt and need to go to the hospital, they say they’ll kill you and cut your head off so that you won’t even be recognized at your own funeral.”My uncle lowered the volume on his voice box and leaned close to Anne’s ears.“Tell Ferna not to worry,” he said. “God is with me.”Because, just as he’d told my father, he would be leaving for Miami in a few days to visit some churches, he had eight hundred dollars with him that he planned to leave behind for the teachers’ salaries. So when his neighbors crowded the courtyard telling him of their wounded or dead loved ones, he gave them that money. Because many were bystanders who had been shot just as he might have been shot inside the walls of his house, his church, they understood that it was not his fault. By the time it got dark, however, and Tante Denise’s brothers urged him to go back inside so they could lock all the doors and gates, the two corpses had been dragged to the front of the church and laid out. That afternoon, on the radio, the government reported that only two people had died during the operation. Obviously there were many more.That night after dark everyone gathered in my uncle’s room. He and the children crowded together on his bed, while Maxo and his wife, Josiane, Léone and her brothers stretched out on blankets on the floor. To avoid being seen, they remained in the dark, not even lighting a candle.They could now hear a more familiar type of gunfire, not the super firing power of the Haitian special forces and UN soldiers but a more subdued kind of ammunition coming from the handguns and rifles owned by area gang members. Shots were occasionally fired at the church. Now and then a baiting voice would call out, “Pastor, you’re not getting away. We’re going to make you pay.”Using a card-funded cell phone with a quickly diminishing number of minutes, Maxo tried several times to call the police and the UN alert hotline, but he could not get through. He wanted to tell them that their operation had doomed them, possibly condemned them to death. He wanted them to send in the cavalry and rescue them, but quickly realized that he and his family were on their own.At one point they heard footsteps, the loud thump of boots on a narrow ledge above my uncle’s bedroom window. Maxo tightened his grip on the handle of a machete he kept under his pillow, just as his father had in his youth. Something heavy was being dragged across the floor above them, possibly the generator on which they relied for most of their electrical power.It was quiet again. My uncle waited for the children to nod off before discussing strategy with the adults.“They’re mostly angry at me,” he said. “They’re angry because they think I asked the riot police and the UN to go up on the roof. Everyone who came tonight asked me, ‘Why did you let them in?’ as though I had a choice.”“Maxo,” he said, putting as much command as he could behind his mechanized voice. “Take your wife and the children and go to Léogâne with your aunt and uncles. If you leave at four in the morning, you’ll be on one of the first camions to Léogâne.”“I’m not going to leave you,” Maxo said.“You have to,” my uncle insisted. He wanted to paint a painful enough picture that would force Maxo to leave, not just to save himself but the children as well. So he borrowed an image from his boyhood of the fears that a lot of parents, including his, had for their children during the American occupation.“They’re very angry with us right now,” he told Maxo. “What if they bayonet the children right in front of us? Would you want to see that? Your children torn from limb to limb right before your eyes?”Maxo paced the perimeter of the room, walking back and forth, thinking.“Okay,” he said finally. “I’ll make sure the children leave safely, then I’ll come back for you. You call my cell phone as soon as you can and we’ll meet at Tante Zi’s house in Delmas.”“You should leave with us,” Léone persisted.I’ll never know whether my uncle thought he was too old or too familiar to his neighbors, including the gang members, to be harmed in any way, but somehow he managed to convince everyone to leave. So when the sun rose the next morning, he was all by himself in a bullet-riddled compound.

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  • WINNER | 2008
    Hurston/Wright Legacy Award
  • WINNER | 2008
    New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
  • WINNER | 2007
    National Book Critics Circle Awards
  • FINALIST | 2007
    National Book Awards

“Remarkable. . . . A fierce, haunting book about exile and loss and family love.” —The New York Times

"With a storyteller's magnetic force . . . [Danticat] gives voice to an attachment too deep for words.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“Powerful. . . . Danticat employs the charms of a storyteller and the authority of a witness to evoke the political forces and personal sacrifices behind her parents' journey to this country and her uncle's decision to stay behind.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Heartwrenching, intimate. . . . Through the seemingly effortless grace of Danticat's words, a family's tragedy is transformed into a promise of collective hope.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Her power of language is so great, and at the same time, so subtle, that even those that cannot see her or understand her stories will be transformed by her impact on their world.” —Walter Mosley

About

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
Winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award
Finalist for the National Book Awards


From the age of four, award-winning writer Edwidge Danticat came to think of her uncle Joseph as her “second father,” when she was placed in his care after her parents left Haiti for America. And so she was both elated and saddened when, at twelve, she joined her parents and youngest brothers in New York City. As Edwidge made a life in a new country, adjusting to being far away from so many who she loved, she and her family continued to fear for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorated.

In 2004, they entered into a terrifying tale of good people caught up in events beyond their control. Brother, I'm Dying is an astonishing true-life epic, told on an intimate scale by one of our finest writers.

“Remarkable. . . . A fierce, haunting book about exile and loss and family love.” —The New York Times

"With a storyteller's magnetic force . . . [Danticat] gives voice to an attachment too deep for words.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“Powerful. . . . Danticat employs the charms of a storyteller and the authority of a witness to evoke the political forces and personal sacrifices behind her parents' journey to this country and her uncle’ s decision to stay behind.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Heartwrenching, intimate. . . . Through the seemingly effortless grace of Danticat’s words, a family's tragedy is transformed into a promise of collective hope.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Her power of language is so great, and at the same time, so subtle, that even those that cannot see her or understand her stories will be transformed by her impact on their world.” —Walter Mosley

“A classic that will be taught and looked at forever. A phenomenal book.” —Ann Patchett

“Extraordinary . . . Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying records the toll Haiti’s civil war took on the author’s family, both in their native land and in their country of refuge, America.” —Diane Cole, U.S. News & World Report (December 31, 2007/January 7, 2008)

“Danticat’s father left poverty and turmoil in his native Haiti and came to New York, where he drove a taxi for 20 years. His beloved brother, Joseph, stayed behind. The haunting, simply written story of the effect of exile on their families is also a memoir of the power of love against the sorrow of loss.” —Anne Stephenson, The Arizona Republic (December 28, 2007)

“Told in the spare, lyrical prose that marks Danticat’s fiction, [Brother, I’m Dying] moves quickly and directly through its complex stories, falling towards conclusions so stark and true and sad that I was startled to find myself crying. . . . As Danticat ages in the pages . . . the author’s spare style becomes ever more incisive, describing only what is necessary: her imagined version of her uncle’s experience on the rioting streets of Haiti in 2004, her own painful conversations with her mother about her father’s illness, the harrowing journey to the United States that results in her uncle’s death. . . . The last third of the book catapults the memoir, thus far a personal story on which politics touched into a searing story of the personal destruction wrought by immoral political policy. The transition is so smooth and so startling as to make you realize that even among the privileged, politics infect our lives with similar insidiousness. By the end of the book, Danticat has drawn us into her family’s world, and through it, into the realities of the world we live in.” —Gemma Cooper-Novack, Feminist Review (December 11, 2007)

“Through the seemingly effortless grace of Danticat’s words, a family’s tragedy is transformed into a promise of collective hope.” —Bloomsbury Review (December 1, 2007)

“A memoir of the highest order: substantive, unsentimental, lucid and beautiful . . . affecting.” —Holly Silva, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (December 9, 2007)

“Edwidge Danticat’s memoir Brother, I’m Dying is a breathtaking account of love, loss, and Haiti. . . . that captures her admiration for the two men who raised her and [is] a heartbreaking portrait of the hardscrabble life of Haitians, both in the United States and back home.” —Frank Houston, Broward Palm Beach News (November 1, 2007)
 
“More than just another family immigration; Danticat draws up a balance sheet of what is gained and lost from what seems like such a small decision as where to live and work.  Her skills as a storyteller lend themselves well to this story, her own ‘origin myth.’” —Kel Munger, Sacramento News & Review (October 18, 2007)

“How does a novelist, who trades in events filtered through imagination and memory, recreate an event so recent, so intimate and so outrageous, an attack on her own loyalties and sense of deepest belonging?  Joseph Dantica was a remarkable man: a Baptist minister, a survivor of cancer, a loyal husband and family man who raised his niece Edwidge Danticat to the age of 12, when she joined her parents in Brooklyn.  When [he] fled Haiti in 2004 after a battle between U.N. peacekeepers and gang members destroyed his church and put his life in jeopardy, he was 81. He intended to return and rebuild his church as soon as the fighting stopped. But to the Department of Homeland Security officers who examined him, his plea for asylum meant he was simply another unlucky Haitian determined to slip through their fingers. [Their] refusal of treatment cost him his life: he died in a Florida hospital, probably in shackles, the following day. The story of Joseph Dantica could be, perhaps will be, told in many forms: as a popular ballad; as Greek tragedy; as agitprop theater; as a bureaucratic nightmare worthy of Kafka. But Edwidge Danticat, true to her calling, has resisted any of these responses.  In telling her family’s story she giv[es] us a memoir whose cleareyed prose and unflinching adherence to the facts conceal an astringent undercurrent of melancholy, a mixture of homesickness and homelessness. Haunting the book throughout is a fear of missed chances, long-overdue payoffs and family secrets withering on the vine: a familiar anxiety when one generation passes to another too quickly.” —Jess Row, The New York Times Book Review (cover) (September 9, 2007)

“There is no guarantee that a distinguished fiction writer will produce a successful memoir.  Yet Edwidge Danticat—the author of three elegant and complex novels—brings lucid storytelling to Brother, I’m Dying.  . . . An intricate account that expands outward to include the history of U.S. involvement in Haiti since 1915; violence and fear during the Duvalier reign and beyond; and post-Sept. 11 immigration policy. Emotional clarity is abundant.” —Donna Rifkind, Los Angeles Times Book Review (September 9, 2007)

“A model of grace and restraint.” —Anna Mundow, The Boston Globe (September 9, 2007)

“Poignant . . . . Eminently readable and emotionally nuanced.  The two men it features–Edwidge’s father, Miracin, and his older brother, Joseph–become our own father and uncle.  Brother, I’m Dying offers a glimpse into the sources of Danticat’s vivid imagery and characters. We see dresses sewn big to grow into. We find a righteous pastor who confronts the Tonton Macoutes, the terror of voicelessness, aged matriarchs with tales to tell, and the casual abuse of absolute power. The ancient Greeks believed that in death, gods and heroes were raised to the sky as constellations. In contrast, the children of slaves from Brazil to Haiti were taught that every time a brave soul died, a star fell. Toward the end of her memoir, Danticat reminds us of this, one of the great motifs in the folklore of the African Diaspora. When the next meteor shower rains down, only the heartless would begrudge Joseph and Miracin two of those brilliant flashes.” —Richard Thompson, Minneapolis Star-Tribune (September 7, 2007)

“At a time when most American memoirs practically groan under the weight of self-importance and bad-memory baggage, Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying provides a formidable example of an author who knows how to write about her family without hogging the stage. . . . Brother conjures up vibrant episodes in the Danticat family history in a tone that’s both clear-eyed and mythical. . . . Interspersed with these stories of near wonder are scenes of political turmoil in Haiti, which push the book toward its haunting moral core.  In October 2004, after gangs threaten to kill Joseph, the preacher flees to Miami, where he’s detained by immigration officials.  After a series of seizurelike attacks that go untreated, he dies. . . . Danticat re-creates her uncle’s final hours in masterful detail . . . By the end, it’s impossible not to feel outrage at the bureaucracies that denied Joseph his humanity and his life.” —Michael Miller, Time Out New York (September 6-12, 2007)

“Deeply affecting . . . Danticat brings the lyric language and emotional clarity of her remarkable novel The Dew Breaker to bear on the story of her own family, a story which, like so much of her fiction, embodies the painful legacy of Haiti’ s violent history, demonstrating the myriad ways in which the public and the private, the political and the personal, intersect in the lives of that country’s citizens and exiles. Ms. Danticat not only creates an indelible portrait of her two fathers, her dad and her uncle, but in telling their stories, she gives the reader an intimate sense of the personal consequences of the Haitian diaspora: its impact on parents and children, brothers and sisters, those who stay and those who leave to begin a new life abroad. She has written a fierce, haunting book about exile and loss and family love, and how that love can survive distance and separation, loss and abandonment and somehow endure, undented and robust. . . . Moving.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times (September 4, 2007)

“Edwidge Danticat wastes no time.  She learned she was pregnant the same day she was told her father was dying, as she writes in the first line of her eloquent, intense memoir.  Her life, her father’s and that of the uncle who raised her until she was 12 are intertwined.  Past and present, personal and political entangle with a vengeance in the lives of ordinary people who become immigrants . . . The tone, as always with Danticat’s fiction and nonfiction, is unsentimental.  And the book is tightly structured, the narrative taut.” —Betsy Willeford, The Miami Herald (September 2, 2007)

Family can be inscrutable, a mystery sometimes better solved by describing events than by analyzing motives. Edwidge Danticat describes her family history in Brother, I’m Dying with a dispassion that only adds to the drama of childhood memories and snippets of family lore learned ‘out of sequence and in fragments.’ . . . The brutalities of war and immigration—and the grace of strong family ties—are scorched into Danticat’s intimate and aching story.” —Deanna Larson, Bookpage (September 2007)

“Haitian-born American writer Danticat is at her best—fearless, persuasive, captivating—in recounting her family history. . . . In a world where the concept of distinct nationalities is fast giving way to the preeminence of diasporas, this is a tale for all, both uplifting and tragic.  Most readers will likely recognize a kindred spirit or something familiar in this family account, brought so vividly to life and captured for all ages by a fine writer. Recommended.” —Edward K. Owusu-Ansah, Library Journal (Editor’s Pick, starred review) (August 2007)

“This past June a tally from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency showed that 62 immigrants have died in its custody since 2004. . . . One was Joseph, the frail, 81-year-old uncle of the brilliant novelist Edwidge Danticat, who tells Joseph’ s story, and her own, in this unforgettable memoir. . . . Brother, I’m Dying is the story of a family torn between two countries and of a daughter’s love split between two men: one a worked-to-the-bone taxi driver in Brooklyn, the other a pastor coping with revolution. Danticat brings the risk and daring of contemporary immigrant experience vividly alive.” —Kate Manning, More (September 2007)

“In a single day in 2004, Danticat learns that she’s pregnant and that her father, André, is dying—a stirring constellation of events that frames this Haitian immigrant family’s story, rife with premature departures and painful silences.  When Danticat was two, André left Haiti for the U.S., and her mother followed when Danticat was four.  The author and her brother could not join their parents for eight years, during which André’s brother Joseph raised them.  . . . In the end, as Danticat prepares to lose her ailing father and give birth to her daughter, Joseph is threatened by a volatile sociopolitical clash and forced to leave Haiti.  He’s then detained by U.S. Customs and neglected for days.  He unexpectedly dies a prisoner while loved ones await news of his release.  Poignant and never sentimental, this elegant memoir recalls how a family adapted and reorganized itself over and over, enduring and succeeding to remain kindred in spite of living apart.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) (July 16, 2007)

“An unforgettable work by a truly great artist at the height of her powers, rich with the history of Haiti then and now, and constantly informed by a folk wisdom as old as humankind. Never has Edwidge Danticat’s simple lucidity and extraordinary equilibrium served her better than here. In a work full of anger, but next to no bitterness, she traces a singular Haitian tragedy. The superhuman control of her writing compresses all the fury of this narrative to the hardened brilliance of a diamond.” —Madison Smartt Bell

“Exceptionally gripping . . . [A] deeply felt memoir rife with historical drama . . . [Brother, I’m Dying] tells the dramatically twinned stories of Danticat’ s father’s and uncle’s hardworking, tragedy-haunted lives. [The book] starts off momentously in 2004, when the author discovers she’s pregnant on the same day she learns that her father has end-stage pulmonary fibrosis. From there, Danticat angles backward in time, sketching a family history marked by long absence and a backdrop of political unrest. While her parents tried to make a better life in Brooklyn, the author was raised in Haiti by her uncle Joseph; she didn’t join her mother and father until she was 12. . . . Danticat alternates between her uncle’s and her father’s stories, using her childhood experiences as a means to vividly portray two honorable, duty-bound men who wanted nothing more than to lead respectable lives in a peaceful and prosperous Haiti. The country’s troubled history is always smoldering in the background, and there’s an explosion of tears waiting behind almost every sentence. But Danticat avoids sentimentality in smoothly honed prose that is nonetheless redolent with emotion.” —Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2007)

“Memoir is a witness which swears to tell the truth. Memoir is the magic of love and remembrance. Magic is Edwidge Danticat who taps on her keyboard to the rhythm of angels.” —Nikki Giovanni

“Wonderful. Danticat’s moving tale of two remarkable brothers—her own father and her beloved Uncle Joseph, separated for thirty years–is as compelling and richly told as her fiction. Politically charged and sadly unforgettable, their stories will lodge themselves in your heart.” —Cristina García

Brother, I’m Dying will break your heart but put it back together through the healing magic of Edwidge Danticat’s clear, compassionate, beautiful writing. She draws us into her family, to share its joys and also its journey to the heart of darkness. But she also shows us the way back: we become brothers and sisters in an even larger family, the human family, bonded together by the power of her storytelling.  This is what the best writing can do.  And why we need storytellers like her more than ever.” —Julia Alvarez

Author

© Lynn Savarese

EDWIDGE DANTICAT is the author of numerous books, including The Art of Death, a National Book Critics Circle finalist; Claire of the Sea Light, a New York TimesNotable Book; Brother, I'm Dying, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner and National Book Award finalist; The Dew Breaker, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist and winner of the inaugural Story Prize; The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner; Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah's Book Club selection; and Krik? Krak!, also a National Book Award finalist. A 2018 Neustadt International Prize for Literature winner and the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" grant, she has been published in The New YorkerThe New York Times, Harper's Magazine, and elsewhere.

EDWIDGE DANTICAT is available for select readings and lectures. To inquire about a possible appearance, please contact Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau at speakers@penguinrandomhouse.com or visit prhspeakers.com.

View titles by Edwidge Danticat

Excerpt

Beating the DarknessOn Sunday, October 24, 2004, nearly two months after he left New York, Uncle Joseph woke up to the clatter of gunfire. There were blasts from pistols, handguns, automatic weapons, whose thundering rounds sounded like rockets. It was the third of such military operations in Bel Air in as many weeks, but never had the firing sounded so close or so loud. Looking over at the windup alarm clock on his bedside table, he was startled by the time, for it seemed somewhat lighter outside than it should have been at four thirty on a Sunday morning.During the odd minutes it took to reposition and reload weapons, you could hear rocks and bottles crashing on nearby roofs. Taking advantage of the brief reprieve, he slipped out of bed and tiptoed over to a peephole under the staircase outside his bedroom. Parked in front of the church gates was an armored personnel carrier, a tank with mounted submachine guns on top. The tank had the familiar circular blue and white insignia of the United Nations peacekeepers and the letters UN painted on its side. Looking over the trashstrewn alleys that framed the building, he thought for the first time since he’d lost Tante Denise that he was glad she was dead. She would have never survived the gun blasts that had rattled him out of his sleep. Like Marie Micheline, she too might have been frightened to death.He heard some muffled voices coming from the living room below, so he grabbed his voice box and tiptoed down the stairs. In the living room, he found Josiane and his grandchildren: Maxime, Nozial, Denise, Gabrielle and the youngest, who was also named Joseph, after him. Léone, who was visiting from Léogâne, was also there, along with her brothers, Bosi and George.“Ki jan nou ye?” my uncle asked. How’s everyone?“MINUSTAH plis ampil police,” a trembling Léone tried to explain.Like my uncle, Léone had spent her entire life watching the strong arm of authority in action, be it the American marines who’d been occupying the country when she was born or the brutal local army they’d trained and left behind to prop up, then topple, the puppet governments of their choice. And when the governments fell, United Nations soldiers, so-called peacekeepers, would ultimately have to step in, and even at the cost of innocent lives attempt to restore order.Acting on the orders of the provisional government that had replaced Aristide, about three hundred United Nations soldiers and Haitian riot police had come together in a joint operation to root out the most violent gangs in Bel Air that Sunday morning. Arriving at three thirty a.m., the UN soldiers had stormed the neighborhood, flattening makeshift barricades with bulldozers. They’d knocked down walls on corner buildings that could be used to shield snipers, clearedaway piles of torched cars that had been blocking traffic for weeks and picked up some neighborhood men.“It is a physical sweep of the streets,” Daniel Moskaluk, the spokesman for the UN trainers of the Haitian police, would later tell the Associated Press, “so that we can return to normal traffic in this area, or as normal as it can be for these people.”Before my uncle could grasp the full scope of the situation, the shooting began again, with even more force than before. He gathered everyone in the corner of the living room that was farthest from Rue Tirremasse, where most of the heavy fire originated. Crouched next to his grandchildren, he wondered what he would do if they were hit by a stray. How would he get them to a hospital?An hour passed while they cowered behind the living room couch. There was another lull in the shooting, but the bottle and rock throwing continued. He heard something he hadn’t heard in some time: people were pounding on pots and pans and making clanking noises that rang throughout the entire neighborhood. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard it, of course. This kind of purposeful rattle was called bat tenèb, or beating the darkness. His neighbors, most of them now dead, had tried to beat the darkness when Fignolé had been toppled so many decades ago. A new generation had tried it again when Aristide had been removed both times. My uncle tried to imagine in each clang an act of protest, a cry for peace, to the Haitian riot police, to the United Nations soldiers, all of whom were supposed to be protecting them. But more often it seemed as if they were attacking them while going after the chimères, or ghosts, as the gang members were commonly called.The din of clanking metal rose above the racket of roofdenting rocks. Or maybe he only thought so because he was so heartened by the bat tenèb. Maybe he wouldn’t die today after all. Maybe none of them would die, because their neighbors were making their presence known, demanding peace from the gangs as well as from the authorities, from all sides.He got up and cautiously peeked out of one of the living room windows. There were now two UN tanks parked in front of the church. Thinking they’d all be safer in his room, he asked everyone to go with him upstairs.Maxo had been running around the church compound looking for him. They now found each other in my uncle’s room. The lull was long enough to make them both think the gunfight might be over for good. Relieved, my uncle showered and dressed, putting on a suit and tie, just as he had every other Sunday morning for church.Maxo ventured outside to have a look. A strange calm greeted him at the front gate. The tanks had moved a few feet, each now blocking one of the alleys joining Rue Tirremasse and the parallel street, Rue Saint Martin. Maxo had thought he might sweep up the rocks and bottle shards and bullet shells that had landed in front of the church, but in the end he decided against it.Another hour went by with no shooting. A few church members arrived for the regular Sunday-morning service.“I think we should cancel today,” Maxo told his father when they met again at the front gate.“And what of the people who are here?” asked my uncle. “How can we turn them away? If we don’t open, we’re showing our lack of faith. We’re showing that we don’t trust enough in God to protect us.”At nine a.m., they opened the church gates to a dozen or so parishioners. They decided, however, not to use the mikes and loudspeakers that usually projected the service into the street.A half hour into the service, another series of shots rang out. My uncle stepped off the altar and crouched, along with Maxo and the others, under a row of pews. This time, the shooting lasted about twenty minutes. When he looked up again at the clock, it was ten a.m. Only the sound of sporadic gunfire could be heard at the moment that a dozen or so Haitian riot police officers, the SWAT-like CIMO (Corps d’Intervention et de Maintien de l’Ordre, or Unit for Interventionand Maintaining Order), stormed the church. They were all wearing black, including their helmets and bulletproof vests, and carried automatic assault rifles as well as sidearms, which many of them aimed at the congregation. Their faces were covered with dark knit masks, through which you could see only their eyes, noses and mouths.The parishioners quivered in the pews; some sobbed in fear as the CIMO officers surrounded them. The head CIMO lowered his weapon and tried to calm them.“Why are you all afraid?” he shouted, his mouth looking like it was floating in the middle of his dark face. When he paused for a moment, it maintained a nervous grin.“If you truly believe in God,” he continued, “you shouldn’t be afraid.”My uncle couldn’t tell whether he was taunting them or comforting them, telling them they were fine or prepping them for execution.“We’re here to help you,” the lead officer said, “to protect you against the chimères.”No one moved or spoke.“Who’s in charge here?” asked the officer.Someone pointed at my uncle.“Are there chimères here?” the policeman shouted in my uncle’s direction.Gang members inside his church? My uncle didn’t want to think there were. But then he looked over at all the unfamiliar faces in the pews, the many men and women who’d run in to seek shelter from the bullets. They might have been chimères, gangsters, bandits, killers, but most likely they were ordinary people trying to stay alive.“Are you going to answer me?” the lead officer sternly asked my uncle.“He’s a bèbè,” shouted one of the women from the church. She was trying to help my uncle. She didn’t want them to hurt him. “He can’t speak.”Frustrated, the officer signaled for his men to split the congregation into smaller groups.“Who’s this?” they randomly asked, using their machine guns as pointers. “Who’s that?”When no one would answer, the lead officer signaled for his men to move out. As they backed away, my uncle could see another group of officers climbing the outside staircase toward the building’s top floors. The next thing he heard was another barrage of automatic fire. This time it was coming from above him, from the roof of the building.The shooting lasted another half hour. Then an eerie silence followed, the silence of bodies muted by fear, uncoiling themselves from protective poses, gently dusting off their shoulders and backsides, afraid to breathe too loud. Then working together, the riot police and the UN soldiers, who often collaborated on such raids, jogged down the stairs in an organized stampede and disappeared down the street. After a while my uncle walked to the church’s front gate and peered outside. The tanks were moving away. Trailing the sounds of sporadic gunfire, they turned the corner toward Rue Saint Martin, then came back in the other direction. One tank circled Rue Tirremasse until late afternoon. As dusk neared, it too vanished along with the officers at the makeshift command center at Our Lady of Perpetual Help farther down the street.As soon as the forces left, the screaming began in earnest. People whose bodies had been pierced and torn by bullets were yelling loudly, calling out for help. Others were wailing about their loved ones. Amwe, they shot my son. Help, they hurt my daughter. My father’s dying. My baby’s dead. My uncle jotted down a few of the words he was hearing in one of the small notepads in his shirt pocket. Again, recording things had become an obsession. One day, I knew, he hoped to gather all his notes together, sit down and write a book. There were so many screams my uncle didn’t know where to turn. Whom should he try to see first? He watched people stumble out of their houses, dusty, bloody people.“Here’s the traitor,” one man said while pointing at him. “The bastard who let them up on his roof to kill us.”“You’re not going to live here among us anymore,” another man said. “You’ve taken money for our blood.”All week there had been public service announcements on several radio stations asking the people of Bel Air and other volatile areas to call the police if they saw any gangs gathering in their neighborhoods.It was rumored that a reward of a hundred thousand Haitian dollars—the equivalent of about fifteen thousand Americandollars—had been offered for the capture of the neighborhood gang leaders. My uncle’s neighbors now incorrectly believed he’d volunteered his roof in order to collect some of that money.Two sweaty, angry-looking young men were each dragging a blood-soaked cadaver by the arms. They were heading for my uncle.My uncle stepped back, moving to the safer shadows of the church courtyard. Anne, once a student of his school, followed him in.“Pastor,” she whispered, “my aunt sent me to tell you something.”Anne’s aunt Ferna, now thirty-seven years old, the same age Marie Micheline had been when she died, he recalled, had been born in the neighborhood. My uncle had known both Ferna and Anne their entire lives.“What is it?” asked my uncle.“Don’t talk,” said Anne. “People can hear your machine.”My uncle removed his voice box from his neck and motioned for her to continue.“Pastor,” said Anne, “my aunt told me to tell you she heard that fifteen people were killed when they were shooting from your roof and the neighbors are saying that they’re going to bring the corpses to you so you can pay for their funerals. If you don’t pay, and if you don’t pay for the people who are hurt and need to go to the hospital, they say they’ll kill you and cut your head off so that you won’t even be recognized at your own funeral.”My uncle lowered the volume on his voice box and leaned close to Anne’s ears.“Tell Ferna not to worry,” he said. “God is with me.”Because, just as he’d told my father, he would be leaving for Miami in a few days to visit some churches, he had eight hundred dollars with him that he planned to leave behind for the teachers’ salaries. So when his neighbors crowded the courtyard telling him of their wounded or dead loved ones, he gave them that money. Because many were bystanders who had been shot just as he might have been shot inside the walls of his house, his church, they understood that it was not his fault. By the time it got dark, however, and Tante Denise’s brothers urged him to go back inside so they could lock all the doors and gates, the two corpses had been dragged to the front of the church and laid out. That afternoon, on the radio, the government reported that only two people had died during the operation. Obviously there were many more.That night after dark everyone gathered in my uncle’s room. He and the children crowded together on his bed, while Maxo and his wife, Josiane, Léone and her brothers stretched out on blankets on the floor. To avoid being seen, they remained in the dark, not even lighting a candle.They could now hear a more familiar type of gunfire, not the super firing power of the Haitian special forces and UN soldiers but a more subdued kind of ammunition coming from the handguns and rifles owned by area gang members. Shots were occasionally fired at the church. Now and then a baiting voice would call out, “Pastor, you’re not getting away. We’re going to make you pay.”Using a card-funded cell phone with a quickly diminishing number of minutes, Maxo tried several times to call the police and the UN alert hotline, but he could not get through. He wanted to tell them that their operation had doomed them, possibly condemned them to death. He wanted them to send in the cavalry and rescue them, but quickly realized that he and his family were on their own.At one point they heard footsteps, the loud thump of boots on a narrow ledge above my uncle’s bedroom window. Maxo tightened his grip on the handle of a machete he kept under his pillow, just as his father had in his youth. Something heavy was being dragged across the floor above them, possibly the generator on which they relied for most of their electrical power.It was quiet again. My uncle waited for the children to nod off before discussing strategy with the adults.“They’re mostly angry at me,” he said. “They’re angry because they think I asked the riot police and the UN to go up on the roof. Everyone who came tonight asked me, ‘Why did you let them in?’ as though I had a choice.”“Maxo,” he said, putting as much command as he could behind his mechanized voice. “Take your wife and the children and go to Léogâne with your aunt and uncles. If you leave at four in the morning, you’ll be on one of the first camions to Léogâne.”“I’m not going to leave you,” Maxo said.“You have to,” my uncle insisted. He wanted to paint a painful enough picture that would force Maxo to leave, not just to save himself but the children as well. So he borrowed an image from his boyhood of the fears that a lot of parents, including his, had for their children during the American occupation.“They’re very angry with us right now,” he told Maxo. “What if they bayonet the children right in front of us? Would you want to see that? Your children torn from limb to limb right before your eyes?”Maxo paced the perimeter of the room, walking back and forth, thinking.“Okay,” he said finally. “I’ll make sure the children leave safely, then I’ll come back for you. You call my cell phone as soon as you can and we’ll meet at Tante Zi’s house in Delmas.”“You should leave with us,” Léone persisted.I’ll never know whether my uncle thought he was too old or too familiar to his neighbors, including the gang members, to be harmed in any way, but somehow he managed to convince everyone to leave. So when the sun rose the next morning, he was all by himself in a bullet-riddled compound.

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Awards

  • WINNER | 2008
    Hurston/Wright Legacy Award
  • WINNER | 2008
    New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
  • WINNER | 2007
    National Book Critics Circle Awards
  • FINALIST | 2007
    National Book Awards

Praise

“Remarkable. . . . A fierce, haunting book about exile and loss and family love.” —The New York Times

"With a storyteller's magnetic force . . . [Danticat] gives voice to an attachment too deep for words.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“Powerful. . . . Danticat employs the charms of a storyteller and the authority of a witness to evoke the political forces and personal sacrifices behind her parents' journey to this country and her uncle's decision to stay behind.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Heartwrenching, intimate. . . . Through the seemingly effortless grace of Danticat's words, a family's tragedy is transformed into a promise of collective hope.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Her power of language is so great, and at the same time, so subtle, that even those that cannot see her or understand her stories will be transformed by her impact on their world.” —Walter Mosley

Books for LGBTQIA+ Pride Month

In June we celebrate Pride Month, which honors the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan and highlights the accomplishments of those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual + (LGBTQIA+) community, while recognizing the ongoing struggles faced by many across the world who wish to live as their most authentic selves. Here is

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PRH Education High School Collections

All reading communities should contain protected time for the sake of reading. Independent reading practices emphasize the process of making meaning through reading, not an end product. The school culture (teachers, administration, etc.) should affirm this daily practice time as inherently important instructional time for all readers. (NCTE, 2019)   The Penguin Random House High

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PRH Education Translanguaging Collections

Translanguaging is a communicative practice of bilinguals and multilinguals, that is, it is a practice whereby bilinguals and multilinguals use their entire linguistic repertoire to communicate and make meaning (García, 2009; García, Ibarra Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017)   It is through that lens that we have partnered with teacher educators and bilingual education experts, Drs.

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PRH Education Classroom Libraries

“Books are a students’ passport to entering and actively participating in a global society with the empathy, compassion, and knowledge it takes to become the problem solvers the world needs.” –Laura Robb   Research shows that reading and literacy directly impacts students’ academic success and personal growth. To help promote the importance of daily independent

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